The Emerging Role of Stem Cell Therapy in Treating Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic Arthritis
Psoriatic Arthritis

Over 3 million Americans each year develop psoriasis. Currently, there are tens of millions of people around the world struggling with this autoimmune-related skin condition, which usually presents with patches of raised, red, itchy skin. However, for some of those sufferers, the condition can be just the beginning. It can cause deeper issues, such as psoriatic arthritis.

What Is Psoriatic Arthritis?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it’s important for people with psoriasis to pay attention to their joints.

“Some people who have psoriasis get a type of arthritis called psoriatic arthritis. This arthritis often begins with a few swollen joints. A single finger or toe may be noticeably swollen. Some people feel stiff when they wake up. As they move around, the stiffness fades.”

For most people, psoriatic arthritis develops somewhere between the ages of 30 and 50, but usually only after having had psoriasis for between five and 12 years. With that being said, some people will develop arthritis early, and some will experience it with the onset of psoriasis. A very small subset of the population will experience psoriatic arthritis before psoriasis is even noticed.

Common Causes of Psoriatic Arthritis

The National Psoriasis Foundation points out that up to 30% of those who suffer with psoriasis will ultimately develop psoriatic arthritis. In all of those cases, the cause is the underlying psoriasis itself, which means it is a result of an autoimmune condition. However, the Arthritis Foundation points out that the disease can lie dormant for years at a time. Sometimes, rather than developing on its own, it only shows up after a traumatic event, such as a major infection, or a surgical procedure. In other situations, it is suspected (but not proven) that skin-borne bacteria may cause the flareup.

Understanding the Symptoms of Psoriatic Arthritis

To truly understand the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, it’s important to understand the many different types. There are five, including the following:

  • Symmetric – This type is responsible for 50% of all cases, and it means that joints on both sides of the body are affected.
  • Asymmetric – This is a less common type, and the joints on just one side of the body will be affected.
  • Distal – In this situation, only the fingers and toes are affected, and nails may experience pitting or spotting.
  • Spondylitis – This is type of spinal arthritis that results in pain and stiffness in the back and neck.
  • Arthritis Mutilans – The rarest type, this form of arthritis can lead to complete destruction of the joints near the ends of the fingers and toes.

The actual symptoms experienced by the patient will vary depending on the type of psoriatic arthritis they suffer. Some of the most common include:

  • Reduced range of motion
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty moving/bending joints
  • Redness and swelling
  • Changes in nail shape and texture
  • General fatigue
  • Swollen fingers and toes
  • Swelling over tendons

Conventional Treatment Options

A wide range of treatment options exists for those suffering from psoriatic arthritis. We’ll run through some of the most common below.

  • Medication: A number of different medications can be used to help manage the pain and other symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, including over the counter pain medications (NSAIDS), as well as corticosteroids, injectable biologics, and methotrexate to help reduce swelling (note that this also treats psoriasis). Immunosuppression is the most reliable way of conventional psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis treatment.
  • Therapeutic: Massage therapy can be an important treatment option that helps to reduce pain and inflammation. Physical therapy can also help patients adapt to living with the condition.
  • Surgery: Surgery is generally reserved as the last course of action. In most cases, this is only available to those who need complete joint replacement, although patients who do not see any relief from medications may also benefit.
  • Protective Devices: Protective devices include things like splints and braces, which render the affected area immobile while also helping to protect against pain from impact with hard surfaces.

How Stem Cells May Be Able to Treat the Condition

Stem cells are being investigated for use in treating an incredibly wide range of conditions. Because these cells are the building blocks of the body itself, and also form the foundation of the human body’s ability to heal and regenerate, they are proving incredibly beneficial in treating dangerous health conditions. It is especially true because stem cells are powerful immune normalizers. That includes both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. While all steps forward have been made in clinical studies and laboratory settings, the results so far have been impressive.

In late 2017, the World Journal of Stem Cells published a study conducted using umbilical cord-derived stem cells to treat a patient with psoriatic arthritis. The patient was 56 years old with symptoms that did not change with conventional treatments.

The study authors report,

“A trial of human umbilical cord stem cell therapy was then initiated. The stem cells were enriched and concentrated from whole cord blood, by removal of erythrocytes and centrifugation. The patient received several infusions of cord blood stem cells, through intravenous and inter-articular injections. These stem cell treatments correlated with remission of symptoms (joint pain and psoriatic plaques), and normalized serologic results for the inflammatory markers C-reactive protein and erythrocyte sedimentation rate. These improvements were noted with the first 30 days post-treatment and were sustained for more than one year.”

The authors sum up by stating,

“The results of this trial suggest that cord blood stem cells may have important therapeutic value for patients with psoriatic arthritis, particularly for those who cannot tolerate standard treatments.”

A similar study was published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases as early as 2006. However, this study relied not on cord-blood derived stem cells (allogeneic) as the study above did, but on the patient’s own stem cells (autologous).

Allogeneic stem cells offer key advantages not found with stem cells derived from the patient’s body, including better energy, longer lifespans, and better regenerative capabilities, all coupled with a lack of negative immune system response.

In the End

When everything is said and done, stem cell therapy almost certainly holds enormous promise for helping those suffering from psoriatic arthritis. However, the FDA has not approved any such treatment, and all stem cell therapies are considered presently experimental and investigational.


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